Kabul: I’m not the father, Mihir Verani exclaims, accusing his virtuous wife Tulsi of having a son with another man.
Shocked, the beautiful woman throws her husband a tearful glance.
The music peaks... and an episode of the most popular soap opera in Afghanistan ends, millions of viewers left hanging on for the next instalment in a tale many have followed since it first aired four years ago.
New ambassador: Television actor Smriti Irani
“I think this is another conspiracy against Tulsi,” 50-year-old car-part salesman Noor Agha says of the Indian drama dubbed into Farsi. “I’m desperate to see how she will cope with it this time.”
But just as Tulsi’s honour was thrown into doubt, albeit only briefly, so has been the fate of the serial of the same name. Islamic mullahs, backed by elements in the government, want it and others banned.
They say the serials and the hot topics they deal with are corrupting Afghans as they emerge from the strict conservatism of the Taliban regime. Afghan culture has slunk towards a wannabe democracy comprising free media, pop music and fashion, they claim.
The information and culture ministry has ordered at least five Indian serials off the air. Most stations have complied but Tolo television has firmly refused to drop Tulsi.
A showdown looms with the ministry referring the matter to the attorney general while the Mohseni family that runs the station says the ban is illegal and they will be prepared to go to court.
The influential clerics are unhappy in particular with women in the show: heavily made-up, they never cover their hair as all Afghan women do and wear saris that expose arms and waists, pixellated out for Afghanistan.
The clerics also complain about depictions of Hindu idols and worship.
In a land scarred by decades of conflict, Tulsi offers Afghans an escape from their own hard lives with an insurgency raging and unemployment at 40%.
The Indian soaps portray romance and dating—a taboo in Afghanistan—as well as heroism and the triumph of good over evil.
But some ordinary Afghans share the mullahs’ concerns.
“When my kids see a kid worshipping a Hindu idol, demanding something from it and getting it right away, my kids will believe that can happen,” says educated Kabul resident Bahram Sarway. “I don’t want them to forget the real God and go after stone-made gods,” he says.
Tolo director Zaid Mohseni, scoffs at such arguments.
“To suggest that somehow people will suddenly stop being Muslims because of the airing of foreign content is not only short-sighted, but it is actually offensive to Muslims as it suggests that their faith is so fickle,” he says.